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Africans Increasingly Take to Gambling

7 October 2003

NAIROBI, Kenya – As reported by the New York Times: "The world's poorest continent has long had a gambling itch. But with betting restrictions eased in some nations and with foreign investors and corporations beginning to capitalize on Africa's gambling market, more and more Africans are regarding the good life as just one scratch card, sports bet or roulette spin away.

"There are lottery lines in South Africa and crowded gaming tables in Kenya. In Eritrea, one of the continent's most destitute countries, little boys sell instant lottery tickets to keep from going hungry.

"…Bulgarians are bankrolling a new lottery in Kenya, and Chinese businessmen recently revived Uganda's Lotto. An American company based in Rhode Island, Gtech Corp., has joined with British, Australian and South African investors in the continent's fastest-growing sweepstakes of all, South Africa's National Lottery.

"Gambling was severely restricted in South Africa during apartheid. But after the black-majority government liberalized the rules in 1996, dozens of casinos opened, and a booming lottery started. Players choose six numbers out of 49 and hope they match the ones generated by the Lotto Draw Machine -- a 1-in-14-million shot.

"…Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa have had state-run lotteries since they gained independence in the 1960s. Others are only now turning to the industry as a form of economic growth.

"Scientific Games, a New York company that produces scratch cards, has signed up nine African countries and is in negotiations with others.

"…In Keren, a rural town in central Eritrea, some boys as young as 9 make money no matter what. They walk the streets with long strips of tickets, each selling as many as 200 a day. Whether buyers win or lose, the boys can take home enough to make their mothers happy.

"Gambling puts Africa's rich-poor divide on dramatic display. In Kenya, impoverished people who hit the jackpot are profiled in the newspapers, always with a photograph of the smiling winner holding an oversize check. A payoff of 1 million shillings, or about $13,000, is considered life changing.

"Similar amounts, however, are won or lost in minutes by the high rollers at the casinos or at Big Bets, a new sports gambling den here in Kenya's capital.

"…Frauds are frequent. Forgers in Kenya alter losing scratch cards so that they look like winners and then sell them on the streets. In South Africa, five men were arrested last year -- after frustrated losers turned them in -- for selling magic charms that were supposed to help people win the jackpot.

"…Even though many Africans must get by on less than a dollar a day, they often scrape together enough coins to gamble…"

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